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Ways for healthcare providers to save money can come from unexpected places
By Rob Courtney, Sr Director Healthcare / SLED, Veritas.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This seems to sum up much of what we’ve endured over the past 12 months since the world was turned upside down by COVID-19.
People so often refer to ‘paradigm shifts’ that it’s considered an overused cliché. But in the case of healthcare, it’s probably a fair claim to make. The emergency measures introduced in early 2020 have shifted how providers and patients are interacting. Telehealth appointments are now the new normal and, with surveys reporting 65% of patients want to use telehealth more often than before the pandemic, it’s likely they will permanently replace in-person visits for many people. To make the most of this new normal, healthcare companies will need to place a stronger emphasis on digital transformation to ensure they are meeting customer demands.
Digitizing the healthcare experience
The healthcare industry knows all about the need for digital transformation. But that doesn’t mean that any of the other aspects of running a healthcare business have gone away. Hospitals must still make money to maintain business continuity, adhere to the legal regulatory frameworks that have become the bedrock of the business, and make sure that patients – and patient data – are safe.
So, while it’s been natural in the current climate to focus on survival, more forward looking organizations have looked to how they can come out of the other side prepared to use these changes for their own benefit. The re-invention of telehealth, for example, can make organizations more competitive through medical specializations, now that geography doesn’t stand in the way of fee-paying consultations.
But one question remains: how can organizations combine business development with minimizing everyday costs? One solution lies in one of the most overlooked areas of healthcare IT — data management and protection.
Data protection opens new opportunities
Federal law has long dictated that patient records must be digitized and stored safely, including back-ups. This has essentially made data protection another part of hospital infrastructure, but it can often be overlooked. CIOs tend to focus on hardware and vital electronic medical record (EMR) software to keep the business running, but in today’s climate, protection and backup are becoming mission critical to provider success.
Malware attacks on all organizations have gone through the roof over the past 12 years, and nowhere has this been more prevalent than in the health sector. One anti-malware provider suggests that as many as 560 healthcare provider facilities fell victim to ransomware attacks in 2020, notably more than in any other industry. And this doesn’t just bring financial and reputational risks to businesses. It also impacts individuals whose personal medical data can be sold online for a premium. Data breaches can cause hospital operations to grind to a halt for hours, days or even weeks, in addition to putting lives at risk who are dependent on that data. This is a growing concern especially as the use of telehealth solutions continues to rise.
But how do organizations protect themselves against ransomware attacks?
Since hackers will often try to make data unusable, organizations can keep it accessible by choosing data protection solutions that can make data immutabile. This ensures that data cannot be changed once it is written. It can be the perfect solution for providers in healthcare environments where historical data typically never needs to change.
Data management strategies can also be used to protect information as the amount of patient data grows at an exponential rate.
A vast trove of patient data
Data itself continues to grow at an exponential rate. By itself, the Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) accounts for around half of all patient data being stored. These images are impossible to reduce in size and can be kept on file for up to 15 years – instantly creating a vast amount of data. Without a proper storage solution, healthcare providers can spend hours mining through medical data leading to astronomical data management costs.
Health IT maintenance costs can reach tens of millions of dollars each year. But what if there was a way to reduce this price, while still protecting data? By ensuring data protection, organizations can benefit from top notch data management and retrieval while cutting costs for EMR maintenance. These savings alone can pay for full-service data protection and management solutions and still enable further savings for the organization. For this reason, hospitals will want to have solutions that can drive insight and value from both structured and unstructured data that is living both on-prem and in the cloud. Vendor neutral archives (VNAs) are part of this solution.
When hospitals deploy VNAs, they can reap the benefits of lessened DICOM migrations, consolidation of separate archives, enhanced lifecycle management and a holistic imaging history. It’s easier to train users on these as well because there are less disparate applications to manage, all while providing a less than two second response time for all images. Increasing the availability of medical data increases the accuracy and efficiency of care providers can deliver.
Providers can also save time with automated backup, classification and restoration so long as they are reliable. Time is money and being able to sift through data and locate what you need in a timely fashion can reduce hospital costs as well. The best way to ensure data is reliably classified is to use solutions that are designed specifically for this purpose. Automation can also help reduce cost and time, freeing-up IT specialists to apply their expertise elsewhere while reducing inevitable human error.
While cloud migration and integration is not as widespread in healthcare as it is in other industries, there is little doubt that adoption is on the rise. As providers continue to explore these solutions, they will need to take note of the data backup and protection challenges that come along with them. And as telehealth becomes more mainstream, creating new opportunities for data management optimization and efficiency will help organizations move quickly into the future.